Indian Ocean Territories – Cocos and Christmas

Cocos Keelings

The Cocos (Keeling) Islands lie about 2750km North-West of Perth. They consist of 27 coral islands forming two atolls which have developed on top of old volcanic sea mounts. Of these, only Home Island and West Island are inhabited. Most of the facilities are on West Island. The islands have been converted to coconut palm plantations and only North Keeling Island national park now has any original forest. It can get rough here and the islands are popular with windsurfers, kite surfers and surfboard riders. The South-East trade winds during the dry bring the big seas, The atoll offers excellent fish life, pristine reefs and an average visibility of 25 metres. Dolphins, turtles and manta rays are common. The islands’ marine fauna is mainly comprised of species from the Indo-West Pacific, however, some West Indian Ocean species are present and a few species are very common. There is only one dive operator on the island. There are over 25 regularly visited dive sites. The terrain of the atoll with its deep outer walls and sheltered inshore reefs allows divers of all experience levels to enjoy the sites.

The wet season runs from December to April. Rainfall is around 2000 millimetres and it is hot and humid and sometimes no wind. Cyclone season is from November to April. The dry season extends from May to November with little rain, warm weather, sunny skies, light SE trade winds and clear water. Temperatures vary from 20deg C to 30deg C.


Two Caves

This is the site of an illegal Sri Lankan boat that was sunk as a dive site. It has attracted a school of bat fish. It gets visits from Kat, the Cocos’ solitary dugong.  He arrived in the islands several years ago and tends to hang around local dive sites. There are two small caves just over the adjacent drop off where white tip Reef Sharks and manta rays are often seen.


Rose Wall

This deep wall has plenty of rosy coloured hard coral patrolled by heaps of reef fish.


Catalina plane wreck


The plane’s most intact pieces are her two propellers, which stand straight up on the sandy bottom in crystal-blue water. JX435 was from 240 Squadron RAF and in 1945 was on a freight mission from India. In big seas her pilot severely miscalculated the wind speed on final approach to a base in the lagoon near Direction Island. At the time the Cocos Islands were an important Allied seaplane base housing 7000 servicemen. Only five of the 14 passengers survived the crash. This area is also visited by the glass-bottomed boat.


Direction Island

This site is a short boat ride from the main tourist island across the lagoon. This is short but only possible on relatively calm days. A boat transfer and glass-bottom boat is available on suitable days. The island offers a safe snorkel trail with lots of tropical fish. There is good hard and soft coral and plenty of other invertebrates. Fish life includes butterfly fish, damselfish, Napoleon fish and angelfish. Charters also visit a dump site offshore in 12 metres. There is litter spread out on the sandy bottom, some of it WWII vintage and also old cannons. These tend to be refuges for interesting odd marine life.


The Cabbage  Patch

This popular site is noted for green and gold cabbage shaped coral. Large schools of colourful anthias and chromis hover around the coral.


Fan Wall


This steep wall offers big sea fans and big fish including sharks and mantas.


Garden of Eden


This site offers big pelagics including sharks. The deep wall is also patrolled by tuna, rainbow runners, trevally and barracuda. The site also noted for forests of huge gorgonian sea fans.


Humbug Drift


Snorkelling in the area adjacent to Prison Island offers lots of good coral and fish, including butterflyfish, wrasses and parrotfish.


Wreck Point, Pulu Keeling (North Keeling)


This distant island and national park lies 14km north of the southern atoll and can be visited during the calmer summer months. It boasts big drop-offs, excellent fish life and pristine corals.  Trips are totally weather dependent and subject to permits from Parks Australia North that require divers to drift rather than anchor. This site is on the northern tip of the atoll, on a whitye sand slope that quickly drops over into deep water. Along the wall reef sharks, large trevally and turtles come in for a look. Smaller reef fish dart around excellent coral patches and gorgonia fans.


Paradise, North Keeling


This dive on a long and deep wall also offers excellent fish life. The wall is covered with gorgonian fans, soft corals, sea whips, sea anemones. The site has plenty of colourful reef fish similar to Wreck Point.


Wreck of the SMS “Emden”


North Keeling is also the resting place of the German light cruiser and commerce raider. She lies on the southern most side of North Keeling which is very exposed. In 1914, on the outbreak of WWI, the SMS Emden left the Pacific and began to attack and sink any Allied shipping it found. After destroying several vessels she steamed into the Indian Ocean to destroy the cable station located on Direction Island on the southern atoll. A passing British convoy, which included the cruiser HMAS Sydney, received a radio message from the men stationed on Direction Island that an enemy ship was in port. HMAS Sydney arrived and a gunnery duel started that lastedfor many hours. The SMS Emden was outgunned and took a terrible beating. The German captain ran his burning vessel aground on North Keeling and surrendered. Permits are awkward to get and the weather changeable, so she is rarely dived. The wreck was salvaged of small fittings during 1915 and 1916. In 1950 a Japanese salvage company removed much of the hull and shipped the scrap back to Japan. The remains consist of the props, drive shaft, machinery, the ship’s guns and shell casings. The site is exposed to the southerly swells and is often surgy and stirred up. All but the most avid wreck enthusiast will be happy with half a tank of air, but she is a very historic wreck well worth a look.


Christmas Island

Christmas Island is the tip of an ancient volcano surrounded by a narrow tropical reef which plunges into the 3000M deep Java Trench. Christmas Island is around 360 kilometres south of Java in Indonesia and 900 kilometres north-east of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. Christmas Island is only 22 kilometres long with few beaches. The majority of the coast is sheer rocky cliff with few safe landfalls. The main sheltered harbour and settlement is at Flying Fish Cove.

It is a small island but offers over 40 dive sites. Large stretches of wall diving offer pristine coral gardens, giant sea fans and plenty of pelagics including tuna, trevally, white tip reef sharks, dolphins, mantas and occasionally whale sharks (November through to April). The corals are rich with fish life big maori wrasse, velvet surgeons, Indian triggers, double-headed parrotfish, yellow-tail basslets, squirrelfish, ribbon eels, soldierfish, Indian Ocean wrasses, fusiliers, angelfishes, damsels, and butterflyfish. Visibility often reaches 50m. Large sea caves can also be found in area of limestone reef. Most of the dive sites have a slow current and are done as drift dives. There is only one dive operator on the island.

There are two distinct seasons in the tropics, wet or dry. The dry or “trades” are from April to October with winds coming from the south and south east. It is often very calm and the water is still a warm 26 degrees and the visibility is excellent. There is little rain, warm days and sunny skies. Sites on the north and west coasts are more accessible during the dry season and this time is less busy for tourism.

The wet or “swell” season from November to March is noted for winds coming from the north west. Sites on the east are only accessible in the wet. This period can have regular tropical storms, rough seas with heavy mists and dense cloud cover. Rainfall is around 2000 millimetres and it is hot and humid. No cyclones have ever reached the island. Visibility remains in the 20m range. This is also the time the whalesharks and mantas visit. Because of the northern hemisphere holiday season, this time tends to be busy. The island is largely national park and is teeming with bird life. It is very picturesque with plenty to do on non-diving days.


Whale Sharks & Mantas

Their arrival coincides with the spawning of the red crab population during the wet, a natural marvel in itself. The larval stage of the crab provides a food source for these plankton feeders. Their arrival and departure times can vary from year to year. Like Ningaloo Reef, whale shark visits the island in large numbers. A fascinating experience well worthwhile.


Flying Fish Cove

This site is a popular beach offering easy and shallow snorkelling a few metres from the shore. The fish and corals are excellent and its makes a good night dive. Further offshore there are deeper coral gardens and a dropoff alive with fish.


Wreck of the “Eidsvold”


The Norwegian phosphate ship Eidsvold arrived Christmas Island in 1942. She began loading a part cargo of phosphates for Fremantle. A storm came up and she had to head to sea and anchor off Margaret Beach. At 2:30 p.m. on January 20, a seaman saw the wake of a torpedo pass the ship, but the local pilot said it was probably a whale. To be on the safe side he advised them to stay close to the local fort and the lifeboats were swung out and all the rescue equipment checked. At 6:15PM,  the captain spotted a periscope and shortly after a torpedo from the Japanese submarine I-159 struck forward of No. 4 hatch, breaking the ship almost in half. The crew of 31 managed to get to shore, which was only about 500 meters away. The sub came up shortly afterwards, but a few salvos from the gun at the fort made it disappear in a hurry. In the course of the following night Eidsvold broke completely in two, and both parts drifted towards shore and settled in shallow water. The wreck was later dragged around to the west of Smith Point and scuttled. Half of the structure is accessible, the rest went over the edge of the reef and lies somewhere in the depths. The overgrown and broken up wreck is now home to a healthy coral garden and has plenty of tropical fish.


West White Beach

Thisis one of the largest and most difficult to reach beaches on the island. While troublesome for beachgoers, it’s an easy boat ride for divers. Off the beach it is home to the islands best hard coral reef, including tabletop corals 3 metres in diameter. The shallow reef is noted for coral patches scattered among white sand patches. The area is alive with colourful fish.


Winifred Beach

A 4WD is needed and it is a 45 minute drive through rainforest and a 30 minute walk to the beach. Snorkelling off the beach is possible at low tide.


Pig Rock


A 45 minute boat ride along the northern and western coastlines will take divers to an exposed rock along the cliffs that resembles a pig’s head. Starting on a shallow coral platform the wall plummets, and can get as deep as 80 metres, well beyond air diving limits. The sheer wall is covered with invertebrate growth and giant gorgonian fan corals. Further along the wall the current becomes stronger and pelagic fish can be seen like barracuda, tuna, shark and schools of fusiliers. Visibility often exceeding 40—50 metres.


Egeria Point


This exposed dive site is located not far from Pig Rock on the south westerly corner of the island. A shallow fringing reef slopes away gradually until it reaches a ledge in 20M. Near this ledge a pinnacle appears from the depths and reaches to within 25M of the surface. This area attracts plenty of reef fish and also schools of pelagics, including reef sharks.


Thundercliff Cave

Here wave action has eroded the limestone cliffs and large caves have formed. Thundercliff cave is home to schools of bullseyes and plenty of interesting marine life. In calm weather and suitable tides, divers can enter and ascend into a large air filled dome adorned with stalactite and stalagmite formations. The reef outside the cave is also worthwhile with a nice coral garden, patrolled by friendly batfish.


Perpendicular Wall

A drift dive along this deep wall offers large fan corals, big schools of butterflyfish, as well as pelagic sharks and rays.


The Morgue


A field of coral heads on white sand can be found on a gentle slope. At the edge of this slope there is a nice coral garden with plenty of blue ribbon eels, nudibranchs and fish.


Ryan’s Ravine

This site offers one of the few vertical walls on the Eastern side of the island making it a popular wet season dive. Ryan’s Ravine is a small formation with large seawhips, gorgonia fans and soft corals. It is known for having plenty of turtles.


Ethel Beach

In the wet season when the waters are too rough at Flying Fish Cove, a snorkel can be had at Ethel Beach. After the dive take a walk along the coastal trails and admire the seabirds. The track is rough but accessible by 2WD.